Last summer, I felt pretty prepared for law school. I was confident I could handle hours of poring over casebooks, job-hunting, and even trying that whole work-life balance thing. But like many 1Ls-to-be, there was one thing I dreaded: the Socratic classroom.
For the uninitiated: the Socratic method is a teaching style in which the professor will call on students at random – a practice colloquially referred to as “cold calling.” The professor may ask further questions, may play devil’s advocate, and may present hypothetical scenarios, a.k.a. “hypos”.
Last semester, my section lacked professors with styles like that of The Paper Chase’s Professor Kingsfield. We experienced a variety of teaching methods: voluntary participation, “panels” (groups of students scheduled to be “experts” for the day), and a low-key breed of Socratic method.
Then, spring semester arrived. Friends had heard through the grapevine that in one of our classes, there would be cold calling.
On the first day of class, the room went silent as our professor arrived. As the students in my general vicinity let out a collective gasp, he called on a student in the front row – to ask the not at all intimidating question of why we have criminal law. Yet this student answered well, as did the next, and the next and so forth. We adapted like mountain goats.
So, why use the Socratic method? Well, it certainly guarantees I’ll come to class thoroughly prepared. Also, it helps us improve at thinking on our feet.
No, not like that.
Some students observe that they come away from Socratic discussions with more questions than answers. That’s exactly the point. Above all, this teaching style requires students to do more than regurgitate information from a casebook: it forces them to think critically about all sides of an issue – absolutely a valuable skill for future lawyers.
I’ll remind myself of this in class tomorrow, while anxiously wondering if I’m next.